If you’re in downtown Seattle this weekend in the vicinity of the W hotel, you may stumble across a person suffering from a food coma. Seattle is hosting the International Food Blogger Conference. I hate acronyms but I’m caving. It’s IFBC for the next few days. This whole healthy eating thing is on hiatus until the conference ends at noon Sunday.
Calorie-counting is NOT on the agenda.
I can happily report that IFBC got off to a grand start Thursday afternoon with a tour of Chateau Ste Michelle and a wine/food talk with resident chef John Sarich. A sponsor of IFBC, the winery gifted us with John’s book. Very nice, especially if it includes some of the recipes I just spotted on their website.
This will be the second mega-clustering of foodies I’ve experienced. It was last year’s Blogher Food, hosted at the Seattle Fairmont, that convinced me IFBC was not to be missed. (These photos from a fellow attendee capture that blitz quite nicely.) Visualize hundreds of people snapping close-ups of their plates all day long. While that was a bit odd, the stuff on the plates was the ultimate draw. Really, do you think they would serve mediocre food to a bunch of food bloggers? Oh, and the instructional sessions were excellent. I listened, I learned, I acted (as in adding rice bran oil to my pantry after a passionate pitch from Jadyn Hair of Steamy Kitchen).
At least I can go into this weekend with open eyes. While calorie counting is futile, a blogger conference is a fantastic place to observe trends, chat with chefs and gain a different perspective on how we eat. This weekend, for instance, I’ll explore on a few foodie goals of my own: whole grains; plant-based proteins; faster ways to get my blog updated and anything to do with sheep and goat milk. Plus the best dark chocolate I can find. A random list, I know, but grazing works for a food conference, eh?
Sustainability is one of those words that invites discussion. I’m not thinking about environmental policy or continuous business improvement. Or even the source of our seafood. What I’m playing around with these days is how to sustain the commitment to healthy eating day by day while juggling the realities of work and family. We got off to a great start this week. Two days in, I’m thinking I could eat like this for a lifetime. Monday: Grilled tuna steaks and toasted farro with kale and currants. Tuesday: Lemony shrimp and cannellini beans over quinoa plus roasted broccoli. What’s not to like?
Both meals fit my anti-inflammation goals. But is this way of eating sustainable? From a budget perspective, no. And at this point in our lives, it’s a challenge to come up with meal plans that all three men like. It turns out the boys weren’t around right at dinner time so I was really cooking with me and my husband in mind. The guys did show up eventually and eat, but not too enthusiastically. Not sure if it was the timing or the food … probably a bit of both. Tuna is not “steak” but I was confounded why the shrimp wasn’t a hit. Seems what I’m really striving for here is to “sustain” my energy in putting dinner on the table while meeting the myriad goals of a busy lifestyle, great health,and a reasonable grocery budget, not to mention the idiosyncrasies of the teen diet. How’s that for a twist on sustainability?
It was the maple bacon waffle sundae at my birthday brunch that finally caused me to ponder not only my waistline but my absence from the blog.
One year plus since I’ve posted weekly meal plans. I’ve been weak in many ways: Backing off on the themes, grabbing random sweets for snacks, despairing at the lack of meal plans. I could blame the whole collapse on my teen sons. Their revolt at our “healthy” eating began two years ago when my husband and I became smitten with the concept of anti-inflammatory eating. Their constrant refrain of “where’s the meat?” and “this tastes like grass” did indeed wear me down.
My husband and I are huge advocates of plant-based eating. We strive to eat lower on the food chain (he keeps talking about insect cuisine but don’t count me in). But the boys, oh the boys. They get down right cranky around tofu and tempeh. Seitan sends them into orbit. They’ll tolerate beans but wonder why the meat is missing. I found it easier to lapse into my old ways. Vegetables again became the supporting players rather than the starring attraction. I was satisfied to see that everyone was fed in some balanced fashion but meal planning had no appeal. But a part of me has been yearning for that clean, lightness of being that happened when we traded meat for fruits and veggies, 2 to 1.
Sooo … I’m recommitting to the meal plans, to a goal of anti-inflammation and to getting posted here on the blog. But it’s time I faced the truth: These days I’m writing about dishes that usually only one man likes; the other two are debatable 🙂
As I persist with our mighty mission to eat lower on the food chain, my sons are still not too eager to get into the game. The teen commentary goes something like this:
“You know, this would be better if it had chicken in it.” Son #1 was peering at a serving of Thursday night’s meal of cauliflower and carrot curry, prepped quick in the pressure cooker, and served with fried tofu strips and basmati rice. I pondered: Doesn’t chicken taste like everything? I figured the tofu could substitute. Wrong.
“Yes, I tried it. It tastes like grass. Exactly, precisely like grass.” Son #1 again, offering his opinion of tonight’s raw Tuscan kale salad. Freshly sliced lacinato kale, tossed with pecorino cheese and fresh bread crumbs – simple and delicious … to the adults, that is.
I don’t give up easily. I figure they’ll either come around or start cooking. Now that’s the right idea!
Making dinner on the run for the last couple of weeks has prompted a focus on “what can I make in 20 minutes or less that’s still healthy”?
Here’s the answer:
Tortillitas with shrimp (a Bittman recipe for pancakes made with garbanzo/fava bean flour); super simple sweet potato-coconut soup (PCC Natural Markets recipe); and strawberry spinach salad with almonds and feta. (Skip the feta and the plate fits an anti-inflammatory eating plan.)
And all three men liked it!
“WHYYY … tofu?” Son #1 was carefully dodging the white cubes to pluck red pepper strips from the milky coconut curry sauce. “It’s just mush; it’s not real food.”
“That’s what you’re going to be eating in the future, get used to it,” my husband retorted. Tough love at dinner. It was the usual dialogue I braced myself for when tofu was on the menu.
It got better. We barely sat down to a dinner of fried tofu and pepper curry with cashews when Son #2 jumped up to add more tofu on his previously skimpy portion. We were shocked. Son #1 was dismayed. “You’re just doing that to make me look bad!”
“No, really I like it,” Son #2 was serious as he cleaned his plate. Another break-through on our twisted flexitarian path. (“That’s not a word,” Son #2 said. “Yes it is!” I replied with a ready explanation of how we’re part-time vegetarians. He groaned.)
This sudden turnaround on soybean curd was a cause for celebration. I probed to understand the turnaround. “I don”t know why I like it, I just do,” Son #2 said. Good enough. I give credit to the rich coconut curry sauce and toasted cashews on top. And to one of my favorite cookbook authors, Deborah Madison. The side of stir-fried bok choy was super tasty, probably because of a small bit of butter added at the end. (Not exactly vegan but oh-so-good.)
It makes my husband crazy when I buy berries in winter. Strawberries from Mexico, blueberries from Chile. Eating seasonally is definitely preferred. And widening our carbon footprint with produce transported across multiple time zones isn’t in keeping with my values. The cause of my lapse? The annual winter veggie/fruit doldrums.
It seems to hit every year about this time – in February – where my appetite seems to wane. It could be the lack of contact with farmers who bring us the freshest produce. I know I could subscribe to a local box of vegetables year-round but somehow, I’m not as inspired as in the summer. How many root veggies can you eat every week?
So I indulge in “inappropriate” berries (and can I just point out the bananas will never be grown in the Northwest yet we seem to consume about 20 per week?) It’s all about balance. We eat lots of dark leafy greens — kale, chard, spinach — that still look lovely. My file of kale recipes grows by the week. And my inspiration comes from other places. Recipes with unexpected mingling of ingredients. Apricots in lamb meatballs; celery leaves with mussels. Or stumbling upon an ingredient that’s hard to find — smoked turkey legs — to feature in a soup recipe clipped years ago.
Running in the background is a commitment to stick with the core principles of the anti-inflammatory eating plan: 2/3’s fruit and veggies; 1/3 protein & grain. Achieving this proportion at every meal and snack is admittedly more difficult in winter than summer, but doable with a little extra planning and perhaps self-control 🙂
The holiday chocolates have disappeared. Along with the tortillas that I became addicted to during our two weeks in Mexico. Last week seemed almost “normal,” a good time to get back to the anti-inflammatory eating plan that my husband and I count as a grand achievement from 2011.
For our first full-week meal plan of the New Year I turned to a few “semi-vegan” dishes as Mark Bittman likes to call them: Roasted kale with acorn squash; cooked chard with lemon-caper vinaigrette; and a great new grain mix — TruRoots sprouted rice and quinoa — picked up at Costco. With the addition of natural sausages on a couple of nights, the boys didn’t complain too much. They actually liked the tempeh bolognese over pasta. Shocking.
The issue is: Is this way of eating sustainable in our family? Can we stick with the anti-inflammatory goal of two-thirds fruits and vegetables and one-third protein/grains on our plate at every meal and snack? Reality is we’ve taken a few liberties with the plan, especially over the holidays. Those proportions get off balance. But the longer range commitment to quieting inflammation with the right foods has reset our metabolisms. That means vacation margaritas and pina coladas were easily offset by three hours of kayaking a day while we were in Mexico. Despite the occasional lapses, we still feel great, and we haven’t gained back any of the weight lost six months ago.
On the other hand, a few days off-track causes cravings for sweets and carbs to return. I find myself grazing more. I’ve decided sticking to a meal plan will keep me honest. It’s also encouraging me to prepare meals with unexpected flavors that meet our nutrition goals. Dishes like a quick saute of chickpeas with spinach for Saturday lunch (smoked paprika is the key spice) and seared scallops over a grapefruit-avocado-mint salad for a leisurely Friday night dinner.
Bring it on!
“I’d rather eat this than fish.” Son #2 was digging into his second serving of braised greens during a Sunday dinner that was atypical, even for me.
Braised chard with chorizo + braised kale with chick peas + tomato vegetable bulgur sauce + cornbread. All made possible by a husband willing to do all the chopping in advance (fulfilling my TV chef fantasy) and the tomato sauce stashed away in the freezer after this summer’s tomato rush. Prepping the greens separately wasn’t in the original plan — chard and kale can happily co-exist in any braised greens recipe — but the chorizo created controversy. “There’s nothing healthy about chorizo,” my husband said, looking askance at the label. True, there in tiny print was mention of pork snouts or some other odd part or two. I knew I was breaking every rule in the A-I (anti-inflammatory) eating plan to include the scandalous Mexican chorizo but I knew the recipe was a good one. Besides, my nutritional profile was doomed from an afternoon dusted with sugar and flour, baking cookies with the boys. Let’s just finish the day with a mysterious organ meat and start over tomorrow, I figured.
Good plan. Both greens dishes got a thumbs-up, a far more enthusiastic response than our intentionally healthy plates, such as roasted salmon and lentils. A disruption here and there — whether it’s sugar or organ meat — seems to keep family appetites in check.
“Mom, don’t put this in your blog.” Son #1 was earnest and I was amazed. I had just labored, much longer than usual for a weeknight meal, over an extraordinary (IMHO) broccoli-basil mac ‘n cheese casserole. Cheddar and swiss cheeses blended with a bit of sour cream and cherry tomatoes. Mixed into hot whole wheat pasta shells with pureed butternut squash and topped with a blend of broccoli, basil and bread crumbs before a turn in the oven.
I should have known. The dish was touted as a healthy alternative to traditional mac n cheese, thanks to the sneaky squash and green crumb topping. The boys didn’t fall for it but it didn’t bother me (thus, the blog post). I had caved in the previous night with a dinner featuring pork tenderloin, noting it was only the third or so time for pork since we started the anti-inflammatory eating plan back in June. “Yeah, I noticed!” pipes up Son #1 again. He doesn’t miss much in the kitchen.
I figure there are trade-offs if we’re going to stick with our A-I eating plan. Last week my husband was away so the boys got three nights of traditional eats: chili, spaghetti, boiled sausage dinner. Then hubbie reappeared and we returned to a favorite recipe from our still-new adventures in anti-inflammatory eating. It’s a quick dish of chicken with tomatoes, roasted red peppers and almond butter. What makes it special is the spice step: Cumin seed, fennel seed, and coriander are sauteed in oil before rest of the ingredients. That simple step gives the meal a flavor boost that earns a thumbs-up even with my teen sons.
Now that we’re heading into the deadly holiday feasting season, I’ll be looking for ways to sustain our commitment to our new eating plan without sacrificing flavor. Time to create a “best of” list with the dinners we all agreed are tasty. And time to stock up on healthy snacks so I won’t munch on the cookies and candy that inevitably land on our doorstep this time of year.
It’s a balancing act for sure.